It's not the first time I've ventured out at lunch in search of some fresh music or scenery. It's not even the first time I've conducted that search at Powell Street BART Station. I heard it was a great place for street musicians and, anyway, it is one of my favorite areas of town. The main entrance to the station passes by an area dominated by street dancers with thumping tunes, street preachers, bums and sundry ne'er-do-wells, a row of chess tables, many with games in progress, a cable car turn-around rife with queued, eager tourists and a lone hot dog cart, only to proceed down past a large sub-surface public area. It always harkens back to visits to SF in my youth. Situated at the edge of both the tenderloin (to the west) and the financial district (to the east) this is one of my favorite parts of the city.
And last week that search was richly rewarded. Playing down in the west end of the station were two guys from Africa, one from Mali and one from Guinea. Yacouba Diarra, the young Malian and principal vocalist, was playing a ngoni (pronounced "goni"), a large gourd instrument with some eight strings and more like a kora than other descriptions and pictures of ngonis I've seen on the internet. (Another Malian musician, one of the foremost kora players, Toumani Diabate, can be seen playing a 21 string kora here.) The young man accompanying Yacou, named Temomo Mani, is on a bolon, a more percussive gourd instrument that nonetheless has four strings to pluck as well as some bells that jangle freely at the end of the neck. The ebullience and spontaneity with which they play this song, Mariama, made my lunchtime excursion one I will not forget. I hope you enjoy!
To any of you Bambara speaking listeners, translations are welcome!